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Exploring the Majestic Preah Vihear Temple in Cambodia

by Surya Narayan
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“Today, as Cambodia celebrates the 15th anniversary of Preah Vihear Temples recognition as UNESCO’s World Heritage, we are reminded of the timeless beauty and cultural significance of this ancient architectural marvel. It stands as a testament to the richness of Cambodia’s history, the interplay between Hinduism and Buddhism, and the resilience of its people. Let us come together to honor and protect this treasure, as it continues to bridge the gap between the past and the present, reminding us of the importance of preserving our shared cultural heritage.”

Built along the cliffs at about 700 meters above sea level, Preah Vihear Temple stands as a testament to the ancient arts and architectural feats of Cambodia. This marvelous temple, registered as a World Heritage Site by Unesco on July 7, 2008, has become an iconic cultural jewel and the embodiment of Khmer history spanning centuries.

According to historical scripts found at the site, approximately 10 ancient kings were involved in the construction of Preah Vihear Temple between the ninth and 12th centuries. King Yasovarman I started the construction, laying the foundations and building the eastern stairs that rise dramatically above the forested plains below. This massive undertaking was continued by King Suryavarman I and his son King Udayadityavarman II, who contributed many of the larger carved stones found in the temple. King Jayavarman VI, King Dharanindravarman I, and King Suryavarman II added the finishing touches.

Dedicated to Shiva, the God of the Brahman religion, Preah Vihear Temple was not disconnected from Buddhism as many of the kings involved understood and embraced both religions. The temple’s complex layout consists of four levels with four courtyards, each containing five Gopuras (entrance pavilions). Throughout the centuries, Preah Vihear has been a sacred place of pilgrimage and worship, with its stylized representation of Mount Meru, the abode of Hindu gods.

Located in Preah Vihear province near the border with Thailand, Preah Vihear Temple is a two-hour drive from Siem Reap. The temple is perched dramatically on top of a cliff called Poy Tadi, reaching a height of over 500 meters in the Dangrek Mountains. Believed to pre-date Angkor Wat by 100 years, this Hindu temple is renowned for its well-preserved architecture, making it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple’s various parts were constructed over different centuries, reflecting diverse architectural styles and influences. Five gopuras serve as entrance buildings, leading visitors into courtyards and deeper parts of the temple. As time passed, the temple transitioned from its Hindu origins to becoming a Buddhist temple.

Ownership of Preah Vihear Temple has been a point of contention between Thailand and Cambodia for many years. However, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled in December 2013 that the temple officially belongs to Cambodia. Visitors to the temple will not only marvel at its architectural grandeur but also be treated to breathtaking views over the vast plains below.

When planning a visit to Preah Vihear, many people choose to stop or stay in the city of Preah Vihear, formerly known as Tbeng Meanchey. This quiet city offers a genuine glimpse into everyday life in Cambodia, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the local culture. Alternatively, the town of Sra’em, located only 30 kilometers away from Prasat Preah Vihear temple, provides another opportunity to experience remote Cambodia. In Sra’em, visitors can sample local cuisine at a few simple restaurants and gain further insights into the region’s unique character.

Visiting Preah Vihear Temple is a remarkable journey into Cambodia’s rich history and cultural heritage. Its awe-inspiring location, intricate architecture, and spiritual significance make it a must-see destination for travelers seeking an unforgettable experience.

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